GETTING THEIR GOAT(S)- PART 3

Suchitra was typing away furiously at her computer.  These were the top line findings  of the social audit. She would work on the main report later. For now she wanted Mr. Deepak Mukherjee , IAS , Secretary – Animal husbandry and livestock development, Government of Tamil Nadu to some idea of what his officers were up to!!  A storm seemed to be raging her mind and coming out through her fingers!  Her findings would surely turn the animal husbandry department upside down.. she was sure of that! She finished the concluding paragraph and ran a spell check on the document before saving it. She then opened her email , attached the document and started typing out the message to Mr. Mukherjee.

“ Dear Mr. Mukherjee. Please find attached the top line findings from my field visit. I would be happy to discuss them  with you in person before beginning work on
the final document. Looking forward to hearing from you. Suchitra Iype”  . She pressed the “ send” button , disconnected the internet and shut down her system!

Waiting to hear from someone is not easy as Suchitra soon realized . A day passed, then a week and then two weeks but no calls from Mr. Mukherjee’s office! She kept checking her outbox  to see if the mail had  indeed been sent and looked at her inbox to see if it had bounced back. She even resent the mail to be doubly sure ! What
was wrong with these people..?

It was nearly three weeks later that she received a call- not from Mr. Mukherjee but from her brother Sanjay!

“ Hi Suchi.. how have you been?” began Sanjay. “ Oh fine.. and you? How are Rekha and kids?”  “ All okay. Iype in station or travelling?”  he asked.

“ No he is in station. Tell me why this sudden call in the middle of the day? Don’t tell me you are on leave” she said.

“ No I am in the office. Umm Suchi.. have you finished that study with the Animal husbandry department?”  asked Sanjay cautiously

“ Yes. I sent them the report three weeks ago. There has been no acknowledgement from them. Do you think I should courier a hard copy to them?”  she
asked

“ No no don’t do that. Deepak has received your mail and read your findings” said Sanjay.

“ Then why hasn’t he responded? “  asked Suchitra.

“ Well.. Suchi it is a bit complicated. You see , this scheme is part of the  Chief Minister’s  election manifesto and Deepak is one of her favorites” began Sanjay

“ So…?” asked Suchitra

“ Well, it is like this Suchi, your findings will have an adverse impact on everyone concerned!” said Suchitra

“ You mean your friend will be shunted out into Department for disciplinary proceedings or something?” asked Suchitra angrily

“ Suchi don’t be so stubborn! Look, Deepak is a close friend. He has helped me a lot. Remember when he was the collector Kanchipuram, he helped us to get the encumbrance certificate for that land? And besides, he gave you an opportunity for a consultancy- your first with the government if I may add. So you must be practical. If you proceed with writing out that report and putting in all those negative findings, it wont be just him who will be affected. The department will try to discredit you by getting someone else to repeat the study and then you will never be taken seriously by anyone within the government. Your career as an independent consultant will be over!” said Sanjay

Suchitra was breathing heavily! She could not believe what her brother was telling her! “ You mean I should support corruption?” she asked in a hard voice. “ No I am not saying that. All I am saying is to take a balanced view with respect to the situation. You are behaving like Appa now.  It was his stubborn honesty that came in the way of his career. No wonder, he retired as Joint Secretary when he had the potential to go further up the ranks” said Sanjay.

Suchitra could not believe what she was hearing. Her father was her hero and here was her brother being so negative about Appa’s  honesty!

“ I am your brother and your well wisher. Please Suchi think about it calmly and take the right decision” said Sanjay before disconnecting!

Suchitra put the phone down and started pacing up and down the room. She needed to talk to Iype about this when he returned home in the evening.

A week later..

The conference room in the Secretary’s room was packed. Mr Mukherjee was listening keenly to the presentation made by Dr. Suchitra Iype. Mr. Veluchamy, Mr. Selvaraj and Mr. Marimuthu too were all ears!

“ The people have been given  goats without providing them with proper training on their care. Therefore, I would recommend that the department organize a series of training on animal care for all the beneficiaries immediately. Besides, it was also found that the grazing grounds were very far away making it difficult for villagers to take them out grazing everyday.  Therefore my second recommendation is stall feeding. It would be good if the government could work out some scheme around fodder supply for the poor families with goats”

Mr.  Veluchamy and his team were making copious notes. Mr. Mukherjee was nodding and saying              ” What you say is so true Madam. We had not thought about this earlier. We were concerned initially only about the transfer of assets. But thanks to your study we now know how to strengthen this scheme. I am really grateful to you! “   Suchitra gave an enigmatic smile!

“ Mr Veluchamy,  I hope you have authorized release of the payment of the first two installments of her consultancy fees?” asked Mr.Mukherjee

“ No sir. Not yet” mumbled Mr. Veluchamy.

“ Please do that quickly. And Madam, we would be happy to have you on board as a consultant for the content development for the animal care training modules” said Mr. Mukherjee to Suchitra with a smile.

“ Oh.. let me see.. I am a bit busy. ! “ she said trying to evade the offer.

“ No Madam, please accept. We will not have anyone else. We now have a close rapport with you ” said Mr. Veluchamy with a smile.

He was feeling extremely pleased with himself . The goat “ distribution”  had helped finance his older daughter’s marriage. Now, with these recommendations around fodder “distribution” he was sure he would be able to see his younger daughter’s marriage through! Lady luck was definitely with him.

( concluded)

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GETTING THEIR GOAT(S) PART 2

The group that stood on the railway platform of a wayside station in the wee hours of the morning was a curious one. All of them looked dishevelled and untidy. Mr. Veluchamy looked furious, Mr. Selvaraj looked  apologetic, Mr. Marimuthu was rubbing his face making sympathetic noises and Suchitra’s face had  a resigned look. The platform had, besides them ,two stray dogs and a railway porter who was snoring away on the only bench that was not broken.

“ You should check the station before you pull people out of their berths like this at 4.30 AM” shouted Mr. Veluchamy “ Look this station is not Salem. It is .. it is.. I don’t know what is the name of the station?”

“Valliyoor” supplied Mr. Marimuthu helpfully.

Mr. Selvaraj , the main protagonist of this drama stood there quietly!  He had never imagined that his desire to prove his efficiency would land him in a situation like this! The train was supposed to reach Salem at 4.30 AM.  His boss, Mr. Veluchamy  had been worried that given the early hours that the train was  to reach the station and the short time that it was going to halt there, there was every possibility of them missing it. Mr. Selvaraj had volunteered to be the alarm clock that would wake them up when the station arrived. The point was , he  had woken them up at the right time but not at the right station. The train was running one hour late.  He had seen the first thing that looked like a station at 4.30 AM imagining it to be their destination and raised the alarm shouting “Sir, Madam please wake up our station has arrived”. In their hurry to get out with their luggage no one had bothered to check if indeed it WAS the station that was meant to be their destination. Suchitra who was on the side upper berth had tried to clamour down quickly, in her hurry stamping on the face of  Mr. Marimuthu who was on the side lower berth. Mr. Veluchamy had all but made it to the platform with his suitcase but without one of his shoes..!

Now here they  were all  stranded on a deserted wayside station about one hour from Salem Junction.  While Mr. Marimuthu nursed his injured face, Mr. Veluchamy hopped about on one shoe clad foot glaring at his Joint director. “ It is a wonder I manage to run the department with asses like this reporting to me” he thought in disgust!

“Sir, I will call our district office and get a vehicle to pick us up” said Mr. Selvaraj quietly.

After about 2 hours a rickety jeep took them to the government guest house in Salem. It was 8 AM and they were to leave for the village in another hour and a half. Suchitra did not want to take any more chances with time. She was a stickler for punctuality. Mr. Veluchamy sighed.. ! There was obviously no time for him to buy a pair of shoes now. He had to go to the village in his bathroom slippers!

9.30AM saw the four of them getting into an Ambassador car. Suchitra was intrigued to see all three men  trying to squeeze into the front seat with the driver leaving the back seat empty for her!  “ Please gentlemen, one of you should come and sit at the back. Why are you all trying to squeeze in the front like this?”

“No no Madam… it is okay. You should be comfortable” said Mr. Veluchamy.

“ That is not right Sir. One of you please come to the back” she said firmly sounding like a school teacher. Both the Assistant Director and the Joint Director looked expectantly at Mr. Veluchamy who, by virtue of his seniority was the natural choice to occupy the back seat.  He opened the back door and rested his ample posterior gingerly against the door shutting it with a bang!.

“You can sit comfortably. I don’t bite you know” said Suchitra with a laugh.

Mr. Veluchamy cleared his throat nervously. His present behaviour was dictated by the latest piece of information that he had gathered about this consultant from the government grapevine. He had found out that Dr. Suchitra Iype was the sister of Mr. Sanjay Subramanian a senior IAS officer in the Punjab cadre and a batch mate of the Secretary Animal Husbandry Government of Tamil Nadu!!! He could hear those pigs grunting closer and closer now.. And with the two donkeys in the front seat to assist  him, it would be a wonder if he even made it as the Director of that breeding station. In all possibility he would be demoted as dung collector there!

“So sir.. when will we reach Viduthalainagar” ? she asked trying to make conversation!

“In about two hours Madam” said the driver. Mr. Veluchamy glared at the upstart! He remembered distinctly asking Marimuthu to brief this fellow to take the longer route which would take about four hours giving Dr. Anbazhagan enough time to transport those goats to the village.

“ Take that Kumara koil route driver. It will take about two hours more but the road is better and the ride will be more comfortable”  he told the driver imperiously closing all further discussions on that at least! “Four hours..! My God.. that is really long. I hope we have enough time for discussions there “ Suchitra said in a worried tone taking out from her purse a Black Berry to check for emails. Mr. Veluchamy looked at the phone curiously. He shuddered thinking of the possibility  of ever  having to use such a phone – as it , it had taken him so long to learn how to use his present cell phone.

The drive went on and he dozed off snoring gently. All the tension of organizing this visit had taken its toll on him. He had had to call up Dr.Anbazhagan of the goat breeding station near Shakaragiri and request him to rent out 100 goat units for a day. The man had been most stubborn quoting astronomical prices . Ungrateful wretch! Did he not remember the huge amount he had made as a result of the so called procurement last June? And it was not to say that his was the only goat breeding station in the district. It was just that his wife was related to Mr. Veluchamy’s sister-in-law’s  husband! And his two able assistants had been of no use either! “When it comes to sharing the benefits, everyone wants to be involved. But when it comes to dealing with a crisis like this arising out of that no one really knows what to do” he thought to himself!

The sudden jolting of the car woke up Mr. Veluchamy rudely!  “What happened”? he asked the driver. “Sir there is some problem with the car” muttered the driver opening the bonnet and looking inside.

“How far are we from the village?” asked Suchitra impatiently . “About 2 kms Madam.” Said Mr. Selvaraj. “ Look why don’t we walk to the village then” she suggested. Mr. Veluchamy was horrified! Such a thought had never entered his head!

“No Madam, we will send Marimuthu and ask him to bring the goat beneficiaries here. You can rest under that tree there” he said pointing towards towards the left.

“Don’t be silly! We need to go to a village and set the study against the context of this village. It is not like asking them questions about immunization” she said.

So, there they were.. three men and a woman trudging along the road towards the village. They stopped  a boy on a bicycle to ask for directions. “ If you wade through the river you will reach faster. It is not very deep you know” he said. The idea seemed to appeal to Suchitra who insisted that they save that precious thirty odd minutes by taking the shortest possible route!

Suchitra took off her slippers holding them in her left hand and rolling up her salwar before stepping into the water. Marimuthu and Selvaraj rolled up their trousers and followed suit. Mr. Veluchamy’s trousers unfortunately refused to go beyond his calves. But he was relieved that he could step into the water with his slippers on. They were made of rubber and therefore not likely to be ruined. Had he worn his shoes, he would have had to hold them in one hand while making sure that his socks did not fall into the water. There was a bright side to every thing…. !

But the bright side to this walk through the river did not last very long. One of  Mr. Veluchamy’s slippers got stuck in the mud on the river bed. In an attempt to pull it out, he found that he had snapped the strap leaving him again with only one of a pair functional- this time a slipper instead of a shoe!!

Viduthalainagar was a small sleepy hamlet consisting of about 100 families of the scheduled castes living in small mud houses. The people depended on agriculture wage work for their livelihood and almost none of them owned any land.

This being the lean season most of them were home.  Some of them suddenly noticed the four outsiders walking into the village. Unfortunately  the dogs of the village also noticed the visitors and suddenly there were a pack of four dogs barking furiously at them. Suchitra seemed unperturbed by the ruckus around. She made her way purposefully toward the centre of the village. Marimuthu on the other hand was very nervous. He did not like dogs – particularly dogs like this in god forsaken villages. He picked up a stone and threw it at one of the dogs. This angered the rest and they started snarling and barring their teeth. Mr. Veluchamy was worried! This was not how he had planned his entry into the village. He felt very vulnerable without the trappings of officialdom around him.

“Where is Murugesan? “ he asked loudly. Murugesan was the ward member from the village and Mr. Veluchamy’s contact.

“Saar I am here” said a middle aged man walking towards the group. “Very good !Are the goats ready for inspection ? “ asked Mr. Veluchamy.

“Inspection? What do you mean?. I am here to speak to the families who have been given goats not to inspect the goats themselves” said Suchitra walking quickly into the village.

She walked into a hut whose sole occupant was an old lady. “Amma where are your goats? “ asked Suchitra. “ I don’t know…!” said the lady. “ Madam, you see, the goats have gone for grazing. They are not all here” said Murugesan helpfully. Suchitra moved on into the intersecting street into another house, then another, then another. – no goats yet!!

“What happened? Dr. Anbhazgan said that he would deliver the goats by 11AM” he whispered urgently to Marimuthu. Marimuthu took out his cell and covertly made a  whispered phone call trying to find out the whereabouts of the goats. “They have been despatched sir. Should be here any moment” he whispered back into Mr. Veluchamy’s ears.

Suchitra in the meanwhile was behaving like a CBI inspector. She was speaking to different people and taking notes.

In the midst of all this they could hear the sound of a tractor. The sound increased as the tractor reached the village. All eyes were on the trailer of the tractor which was packed with goats!!!

“What is this? “ asked Suchitra suspiciously “Goats Madam” said Mr. Veluchamy helpfully. “Oh I can see that. But why have they arrived here in the trailer like this?” she asked.

“ Madam you see, the villagers were worried that you may be angry if you had not seen any goats here. So they sent someone with the tractor to collect all the goats from the grazing grounds and bring them here” said Mr. Selvaraj.

Suchitra was now addressing the community members  “Which ones of these are your animals? Come on please identify them” she coaxed the villagers.

“Two of those are yours aren’t they? “ asked Murugesan of an old man standing next to him. The man in question nodded dumbly. “You are giving out two goats per person? I thought it was unit wise distribution” she asked Mr. Veluchamy.

Mr. Veluchamy was  breathing heavily. The cat was now obviously poised to leap out of the bag. Suchitra turned her attention to the others in the village and started asking more questions. She asked one of the women to take her goats and go home. The woman hesitated looking unsure. She tried to approach a goat but the animal shrank back. “ You see Madam, these goats are originally from Karnataka. They have a lot of problem trying to understand Tamil. That is why it is not coming to this lady’ explained Marimuthu at his creative best.

Suchitra glared at him and then transferred her attention to Mr. Veluchamy “Please tell me the truth sir.. you did not actually distribute any goats  here did you? “Madam you are not understanding.. you see” began Mr. Veluchamy.

“ I can see everything sir. And I will make sure that everything is seen clearly through my report” said Suchitra scribbling furiously into her notebook.

Mr. Veluchamy felt sick at the pit of his stomach.  That pig breeding station was fast becoming a reality!!!

( Will be concluded in part 3)

GETTING THEIR GOAT (S)- Part 1

Mr. Veluchamy was extremely harassed!  He removed his gold rimmed glasses and wiped his forehead with a large floral printed handkerchief.  He was tempted to run the handkerchief across his bald head .. but didn’t – it would mean acknowledging the fact that he was bald. Only bald men, according to Mr. Veluchamy,  wiped the scalp clean- others were always worried about how it would mess up their hair.

He looked again at the file in front of him. It had a copy of the recent GO along with a letter from the Secretary  Animal husbandry and fisheries, Government of Tamil Nadu.  It dealt with the state government’s recent scheme about the distribution of goats to  families living below the poverty line. Mr. Veluchamy as the Director of animal husbandry was responsible  for the procurement and distribution of the goats under  this scheme.

It was bad enough that the procurement guidelines seemed to be getting more and more complicated by the day and now THIS!!!

THIS referred to the letter from the Secretary. The government had engaged the services of a  consultant who was do a “social audit” of the livestock distribution scheme in two of the districts! And what could be worse was the fact that the consultant was expected by this afternoon   He moved his hand under the table to press the bell under his desk which would summon his office assistant.

“Ouch” he screamed as his hand hit an exposed wire giving him a mild shock.

Subbiah, his office assistant came running in “ What are you people doing? There is an exposed wire under the table next to the bell switch” shouted Mr. Veluchamy. Just as  Subbiah bent down to take a closer look, the door  opened slightly and

Mr. Marimuthu the Assistant Director of  Animal husbandry peeped inside. He was very intrigued to see his Director and the Office Assistant looking upwards at something from under the table. A sharp man who could smell an opportunity  a mile away, he cleared his throat loudly to announce his presence.

“ Come in Marimuthu.. come in .. “ said Mr. Veluchamy as he shifted himself around on his chair to give Subbiah some space to manoeuvre himself under the table and examine the electrical fault more closely.

“ We need to have a quick meeting in about half an hour to discuss this social audit issue” said Mr. Veluchamy. “Social audit?  what is that” asked Mr. Marimuthu? “Oh I don’t know. I received a DO letter from the Secretary asking us to discuss the matter with the consultant today” said Mr. Veluchamy himself rather vague about the term.

In about thirty minutes all the important officers of the animal  husbandry department  were sitting in the Director’s room discussing “social audit” . Along with Mr. Marimuthu was also present Mr. Selvaraj the Joint Director of Animal Husbandry. They were extremely puzzled about what this consultant was going  to do…!!!

“Social audit.. !” Mr. Selvaraj kept saying every five minutes. He was sure that if he pronounced it often enough he would find a suitable meaning for it.

“ The name is mentioned here- Dr. S. Iype”  said Mr. Veluchamy trying to divert the attention away from the issue of their collective ignorance. “ Iype? What sort of a name is that?” asked Mr. Marimuthu trying to contribute to the discussion. “ I don’t know. Must be a foreigner” said Mr. Veluchamy.

Mr. Selvaraj breathed more easily. He was sure that a foreign consultant could be handled. “From which country?” he asked in a confident way. “I don’t know.  Ummm…Germany I think” said Mr. Veluchamy in a superior way.

It was 2.30 PM  and the team was sitting in the Director’s room waiting for Dr. Iype to arrive. Mr. Veluchamy was distinctly uncomfortable. His pants were feeling too tight after that heavy meal he had at lunch. He shifted around in his chair remembering to avoid that exposed wire under this table..” That Subbiah fellow  should get an electrician and repair this soon..”  he was thinking when Sudhakar his PA walked into the room with a visiting card.

Dr. S. Iype- B.Vsc, M.Vsc, PhD ( livestock economy) was embossed on it. “ Yes send him in” he said

“It is a lady sir” said Sudhakar nervously (he was a thin young man given to frequent bouts of nervousness while speaking to his boss).

“ Ladya..?” asked Mr. Veluchamy in typical Tamil fashion. He was now having mental images of a Goldie Hawn type character in a short skirt and a skimpy top. “Chhha! I should have worn my safari suit” was the last thought that went through his head before Sudhakar opened the door to usher in the visitor.

Six pairs of eyes widened as they took in Dr. S. Iype. A five foot something lady – she was as Indian or as South Indian as one could get. She was dressed in a Chettinad cotton sari. Her salt and pepper curly hair was pulled back into a bun. A big bindi, the size of  a one rupee coin drew attention to her high forehead. A pair of glasses rested on her sharp nose.

“Vanakkam. I am Dr. Suchitra Iype” she said in clear Tamil with a smile.

Mr. Veluchamy’s hurriedly shut his open mouth and got up from his chair with folded hands to return her greeting. “Please sit down Madam. We are so pleased to have you with us” he gushed. He then proceeded to do the introductions.

“So Madam, will have some tea or coffee” asked Mr. Veluchamy solicitously moving his hand under the table towards the bell. He stopped midway remembering in time the exposed wire!  “Sudhakar could you please organize some coffee and tea. What about some vadas Madam?” he asked. “No thank you sir. Water will be fine! “ she said with a smile. Mr. Marimuthu was disappointed. He was looking forward to some hot vadas. His wife had gone to her mother’s place and he was forced to eat at the canteen today. The miser that he was, he had settled for the mini meals instead of the full meals and as a result was now feeling extremely hungry!

“Madam, knows Tamil?” enquired Mr. Selvarajan all his plans of handling a foreigner having been blown away in the wind.

“Oh yes. I am a Tamilian.”  she said briskly taking out a notebook and a pen from her bag. “You are married then to a German?” said Mr. Selvarajan pursuing his enquiry.

“German? No my husband is  Dr. Iype Mathew- a Malayalee. But he has been raised in Chennai. His Tamil is as good as mine if not better” she said with a laugh!

Mr. Veluchamy could feel the sweat beads forming on his brow. “Madam…if we could discuss this social audit” he asked

“Ah yes.. I suppose you have seen the Terms of Reference” she  said. Mr. Veluchamy was now really worried. He had not seen anything besides the letter informing him about the social audit and this meeting. Looking at his blank expression she proceeded to explain what her task was all about.

“ You see, following media hype on corruption, the state government is keen that we should do a social audit of this scheme. It would essentially mean going down to some villages and holding discussions with the communities and understand whether those who have been targeted have been reached and those who have been reached are benefiting and those who are benefiting are benefiting enough according to the objectives of the scheme. I can share the methodology document with you” she said taking out a flash drive from a pouch in her bag and handing it to Mr. Veluchamy

Mr. Veluchamy took it from her gingerly. He was not sure what this piece of plastic was. Actually he was not very sure of anything that was even remotely connected to a computer. It was Sudhakar who operated his computer even though it rested smartly on his table. “Please give this to  Sudhakar and ask him to print five copies ’  he told Mr. Marimuthu who was closest to the door.

“Oh you can save it on your computer. Why are you taking a print out? It is a waste of paper ” exclaimed  Suchitra.

Mr. Veluchamy was  acutely embarrassed. How could he tell this lady that the computer that rested on his desk was more by way of a decorative accessory, He fiddled around with the key board.. “My goodness the screen has come alive” he  thought to himself as he saw the screen lighting up. “Where am I to insert this thing”  he asked himself.

“Come give it to me. I will save it to your hard disk” said Suchitra moving towards the other side of the table. The Director of animal husbandry moved aside to let her fiddle with the CPU .  He was feeling mildly irritated.  He wished she would not cross boundaries like this intruding into his space. She was now bending down looking for the USB port. Mr. Veluchamy could sense the others watching him squirm. He pushed his chair towards the other corner in his discomfort forgetting about the exposed wire and getting another electric shock- this time on his thigh! He pressed his lips together to keep from letting out a scream. “What happened? Are you ok”  asked Suchitra. “yes… yess! Madam you should not concern yourself with all this. My PA could have done this .. “ said Mr. Veluchamy nursing his stinging thigh. “Oh don’t worry she said fiddling around with the keys and clicking the mouse”

Mr. Veluchamy’s mind began imagining the hard days ahead when this Tamil lady with the Malayalee husband would start going around the villages speaking to the goat beneficiaries.. Surely.. heads would roll.. He could see visions of himself being transferred to some pig breeding station in the boondocks!!

He brought his mind back to reality ..”And so we shall begin the field work from next week..”  she said briskly as she walked back to her side of the table.

The door opened to reveal Subbiah standing with a bearded man “Saar electrician! “ he said. Mr. Veluchamy glared at Subbiah focussing all his anger and frustration on him..!

Next week.. was it? Gave him too little time to set up things!

( to be continued)

 

 

 

 

 

THE LEGACY

It was afternoon when Malini reached the lawyer’s office. It had taken  her about ten minutes to  locate it in the by lanes of Luz. “ Srinivasan and Shashtri” was a small unpretentious law firm tucked away in the back streets of Kutchery road.  She was engulfed in darkness as she entered the cool interiors of the old house that housed the firm.  As her eyes adjusted to the darkness, she looked around and found herself face to face with Ramu her cousin.

“ You are half an hour late” he said accusingly looking at his watch.

“ Well, I got lost, trying to find the place. Anyway, if you knew the place you could have offered me a lift. We would have then been on time” she snapped back!

Ramu was the son of her father’s youngest brother. A Chartered accountant by profession and a miser by choice. Chasing money was his passion and nothing pleased him more than discussing investments. Though he was younger than her by a good five years he behaved as though he was older than her by a decade. Malini has always detested him ..! It was unfortunate, but it was now just the two of them left behind from her father’s side of the family..!

The door opened and a small man came out saying “ Sir will see you now”!

Ramu jumped up and walked inside. Malini followed slowly.

“ Please sit down” said Mr. Srinivasan ( or was it Mr. Shashtri?. ). The silence was stretching out between them. Malini watched as he looked through the file in front of him. Ramu of course, being the avaricious ass that he was asked quickly ” Is the will with you? “

“ Yes.. here it is”  he said taking it out.

Ramu all but jumped out of his chair trying to grab it out of the lawyer’s hand. Malini watched in a detached way as though she were a spectator in a scene from a play. Her mind wondered what Kalyani Chitti’s will was all about.  The lawyer was talking ‘… so the house will naturally go to both of you as the two sole surviving members of Mr. Sheshadri’s family…’ Ramu was interrupting and asking some questions.. Malini’s mind wandered. She really was not interested in any of this. She was not even sure why she was here. She suddenly wanted to return to her home in Singapore. She was tired of all this. The lawyer was now looking at her and saying something..’
and Ms Raman, this is for you.’  He said as he handed her an envelope and a key. He got up indicating that the meeting was over.

“ What is in that cover and what is that key”  asked Ramu jealously. “ I don’t know” said Malini tucking it into her bag. She made her way  towards the auto rickshaw stand nearby. “ Ok then, let us meet tomorrow at the house. We will see the condition it is in and decide what to do. I have already spoken to a few real estate agents”  said Ramu making his way to his car. Malini looked at him with disgust! All he cared about was money. He did not even have the courtesy to offer his only cousin a lift back to her flat –Adayar was after all not so far away. And anyway, he would have to pass it on his way to Thiruvanmiyur.  But then, courtesy and decent behavior was too much to expect from Ramu the spoilt brat!

‘ What is this letter all about?’ wondered Malini on her way to Adayar. She was curious to open it and read it right away but decided to wait till she reached the flat. “ I hope it is not in Tamil “ she prayed because her reading skills in Tamil would certainly not be good enough.  Thankfully, it wasn’t as she discovered when she eventually settled down in her living room to read it. It was written in
English.. Strange, she did not think that Kalyani Chitti could communicate in English.

My dear Malu,

  I know you will be surprised to read this letter in English.. I have been trying to improve my fluency in English over the last few years so I don’t think there will be many mistakes. Life at seventy holds few attractions for me. After your Chittappa’s   death I have little to occupy my  time with. I never realized how much of my time was spent caring for him. “

Malini’s mind wandered back to the past.  Raghu chittappa and Kalyani Chitti’s marriage. She remembered her aunt as a very beautiful bride- huge eyes, waist length hair and a peaches n cream complexion. Her uncle in comparison looked like a dried up prune. She was so drawn to her aunt right from the first time she set her eyes of her.  The attraction was obviously mutual.. otherwise how was it that Kalyani Chitti who had number of nieces and nephews from her side of the family should choose to shower her love on Malini..

my life has been a difficult one. You uncle’s illness was something that I had not bargained for.  Some people tell me that he was suffering from this illness when we got married. But how is one to know?  People began to blame me for his condition saying that I had brought in bad luck for him. Your grandmother was one of the few who never said anything but then I guess she knew about his state of health when she brought the proposal for marriage to my family. My husband’s illness and my childless state made my life a living hell.. that is until the time you came to live with us”

Malini remembered the brief period of time in her life when she lived with Kalyani Chitti. She was about six years old. Her father had been posted in some way out town in a state that was now called Chattisgarh. Amma had gone with him and she was left behind with Paati, Kalyani Chitti and Raghu Chittappa in Chennai. Paati, her grandmother was almost a recluse. She never communicated or talked to anyone much. People said that she had become like that after her husband’s death. Raghu chittappa of course was another enigma. At least it seemed like that to her then. The Schizophrenia probably had turned him into that.

Her father’s family seemed so strange to her now. Appa the oldest, had  seemed to be determined to run away from his mother and younger brother lest he be burdened with looking after them. Ramesh Chittappa the youngest brother preferred to live with his wife’s family. So there it was the huge cavernous house in Mylapore containing three adults and a little girl..  But life in “ Shobha” her ancestral home was not as unhappy as it might have seemed to others outside. Kalyani Chitti had seen to that! She used to prepare Malini’s  favorite food at every meal-Chitti was a wonderful cook!  Evenings were spent playing on the beach which was only walking distance away. Chitti used to stitch beautiful frocks for her on that hand operated sewing machine in the back room.  The nights used to be spent hugging chitti and going to sleep listening to the lullabies that she sang so beautifully..!

your presence in my life gave me that experience of motherhood that I could never have otherwise had . I remember you with that dimple in your left cheek and the long list of questions. Malu  my dear I can never thank you enough for the gift you gave me.. you made me feel for a brief moment like a normal woman. “  

It was strange how little she had remembered of her time with Kalyani chitti until now.  There had been whispered rumors about her aunt that she had often overheard during her teens. “ Oh.. that Ravi fellow why does he visit her so often? “  she remembered a neighbor whispering to her mother during Paati’s funeral.

Normalcy Malu, is a relative concept. What constitutes normal depends on what people perceive as abnormal. Nobody ever thought about how abnormal my life was. Married at nineteen to a man who was mentally ill and lived on to be his wife until his death forty seven years later! What did people think I should do? Live like a nun in the prime of my youth? You have probably heard all that gossip people spread about me. My so called relationship with my English tutor. Ravi was five years younger than me but like you he brought hope into my life. I lived for those two hours every evening when he would come home to teach me English. He taught me more than the language. He introduced me to the literature in English, the poetry and the stories. He kindled in me emotions that I thought I had successfully killed! There were often opportunities to act out my feelings for him. But we always maintained that distance because of the fear of society. It was terrible  after your grandmother’s death. People just assumed the worst. And finally one day he decided to quit this job. He said he was going to get married and settle somewhere else. Who was I to say anything? I went on as before..! This terrible burden of beauty that I carried seemed to attract more attention than necessary. There have been many occasions where men have tried to take advantage of me. “

Malini felt her eyes fill with tears. She felt guilty about the way she had forgotten this aunt so easily when she had gone back to join her parents. She remembered seeing Chitti at her wedding but it was only a fleeting presence. She had not even stayed for lunch.. Later after her divorce, when she had moved to Singapore she had completely forgotten about her aunt. Her parents did not mention her much either-almost as though she was embarrassment they could do without! Kalyani Chitti had faded out of her memory until last week when she had received that call from Ramu asking her to come to Chennai to deal with Chitti’s will. Her beautiful aunt had passed away in her sleep one evening. The maid had discovered her dead and one of the neighbors had called Ramesh Chittappa . Ramu had performed the last rites. No one from Kalyani Chitti’s family had attended the funeral.. She was probably a shameful reminder of their own greed. A greed  that had made them “sell” away a beautiful daughter to a mentally ill man in return for powerful family connections.

Malu… you will find with this letter a key. This is the key to my cupboard in which lie all those lovely silks that were given to me at my wedding but which I never had an occasion to wear. Please take them and wear them for me. Inside the safe you will find another key which is the key to the locker no 355 in the  Bank. It has the few pieces of jewelry that my parents gave me during my marriage. Please take them with you and wear them too. You are the closest that I have come to having a child and therefore whatever I can call mine is yours. Be happy and may god bless you with all the happiness in this world.

Yours with love,

Kalyani chitti”

Malini folded the letter and put it back into the envelope slowly. It was amazing how one woman had lived so alone and lonely through almost fifty years of marriage abandoned by her in laws and her own family! It called for a lot of courage to continue living through gossip and scandals. A courage that inspired Malini today as a single mother living alone in a foreign country caring for a child and old parents.  “This is your true legacy Chitti” said Malini as she gazed out into the horizon watching the setting sun!

( I have used a few Tamil words. So here are the translations Chitti- refers to aunt- mother’s younger sister or wife of father’s younger brother. Chitappa- father’s younger brother, Paati- grandmother, Appa- father, Amma- mother)